[from Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters, Knopf, 1995]
I am a false philosopher of this
World, a steady congregation
Of one, nobody's panther, nobody's
Tinny cigarbox, nobody's violin, no
Midsummer naïf in Havana rain.
I am glad to see the summer dying
Off, the umbrage of the cornfields, breast-
High stalks gone brittle in the drought.
The headlights early coming on, dusk
Is an old adjective, color of the blind
Reading their prayer in pocks.
You should have been
A contender, a Canadian dime mixed
Up in our own, worthless & shiny, jamming
Up vending machines & roadside phones,
Old Indian. The harvest will
Be small this year & dear --
I'm nobody's truck farmer, nobody's juke,
Nobody's cold sweat on the wooden front porch,
Nobody's southern heartbreak hill.
I'm wide-eyed as Louis Armstrong when he woke
Moonlit in his darkened motel room: all
My white soprano injuries.
I am acquisitive, I pray
Alone. In the ashes, nobody's isotope,
No glass of milk. Nobody's stained-
Glass messages, not the radium
In its dish, wide-eyed
As Madame Curie, lit
By half-lives at her hand,
Nobody's sin, nobody's white-
Knuckled god, nobody's humming bird.
Lord, one day you'll find these in a locked box, unlocked
By your daughter, who will roam with you to the fire-
Place & kneel there at another's ashes, scoop
Them out into a sugar bowl to take home with you to spread
Them on your garden floor, fertile enough for pale
Infertile wintertime. Kneel now with me while I am still
Alive & vivid, blessed by a season of high fever, still
Whole at the larynx & can speak these things
Aloud to you. For one season I have swept
A city by a storm. For you, love, my hair is famous
Hair, my hands are clean, large & white enough
For harm. At the throat of November, when the streets
Are waxy as the underbellies of awed swans, besieged
By wet, cremated leaves, an ancient light lights
The season in its ancient repetitions, old song
About the father, the bedeveling, the histories.
Historically, I am insatiable & cannot be beloved hard
enough. I'm intoxicated, a little whore, lie
Now with me while I am still holy like
This: I hid me -- as the lice hid all through the spring
Of my hair, divine in their guise, invisible
Cocoons beating white & more or less white,
Their bedeviling, as they hid in their cases
While I slept face down in my hair, white in my bed,
Little lamb, an innocent. I will harm as hard
As I have sealed the ashes in their urn, bold
As a tendon arcked in the lover's hip as she spreads
Her wing -- you are impotent, you are wed, I am
Thinking of the humpbacked trunk, full
Of my things, fifty years from now, the terrible
Crystal of what she will find, your precious
One, your lamb. This is my work.
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